Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Pilot's bereavement 'crash factor'

Police helicopters near the scene where a helicopter crashed in the Mourne Mountains in October

A helicopter crash involving a police air crew assisting at the scene of an earlier accident may have happened because the pilot was coping with a recent family bereavement, a report has said.

The crew were taking part in an operation following a tragedy five days earlier in the Mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland last October.

Three men were killed in the earlier crash.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said in a report into the second accident that a combination of human factors was thought to have contributed to it.

The pilot, who had completed all the helicopter and role training required by the operator, arrived in Northern Ireland from England two days before the accident, for the start of a five-day period of duty.

"Immediately beforehand, he had suffered a family bereavement. He did not report this to his company and considered on the day that he was fit for flying duty. However, when the pilot subsequently informed the AAIB of the fact, he thought it possible that it may have been a contributory factor in the accident."

The report says that the pilot lost control of the helicopter, which was engaged on a task for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, while manoeuvring at low speed to approach a hilltop landing site in quite strong wind conditions. It descended rapidly before striking the ground short of the point of intended landing and passing through a substantial stone wall.

"The helicopter was destroyed but the occupants suffered only minor injuries. The investigation determined that an error of judgment or perception led the pilot to attempt a downwind approach. A combination of human factors was thought to have contributed to the accident," the report said.

The report quoted experts who said the death of a close family member has been found to lead to higher levels of stress than any other experience, with the exception of the death of a spouse or partner, and that such stress will likely to cause loss of concentration and performance. The task to be carried out on the day of the accident, although demanding, was within the capabilities of the pilot.

"However, although the effects on an individual of a recent family bereavement cannot be measured, it is considered that this was probably the most significant contributory factor in the cause of the accident," the report said.

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